5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED
“You got a problem with that?”
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK
Look, we’re cranky enough already. Not only is the second series of Torchwood starting, it’s a record hot January in New Zealand and we would much rather be at the beach.
And if that isn’t enough, there’s Voyage Of The Damned.
Uh. We can’t get angry about it the way we were about the series 3 finale. It’s not, like, egregiously bad the way that was. It’s just utterly, utterly uninspired and unoriginal, with a twist of stupidity. It makes us feel listless. It makes us feel apathetic. It makes us feel like getting our bikinis.
Dammit, we’re going to have to review it anyway, aren’t we? Bummer.
All right then. So what have we got here? Take Titanic (no, really, take it. Take it) and The Poseidon Adventure, and mush them together with Robots Of Death, Blink and Enlightenment. Now extract its brain. That’s Voyage Of The Damned.
We really should be slicing up all the stupidity in a rage and flinging it onto the compost heap, because it deserves it, but like we said, it’s so stultifyingly dull that all our indignation has leached away. Instead, how about a drinking game? Get yourself a killer bottle of something, a shot glass and a copy of Voyage Of The Damned. There’s only one rule, and it’s really simple. Every time you see something on screen that makes you groan, have a shot.
Oh, and you’re not planning to operate any heavy machinery in the near future, are you? Take it from us, that really wouldn’t be a good idea.
Ready? Here we go.
Amazingly tasteless appropriation of movie title? Drink!
“By Russell T Davies”? Drink!
Nasty rich guy? Drink!
Jolly working-class fat people? Drink!
Stupid alien coffee-based name? Drink!
Teleport bracelet? Drink!
Venerable Captain? Drink!
Plucky young midshipman? Drink!
Wait a minute. There seems to be a fatal flaw in this plan. We’re only five minutes in and we’ve already run out of vodka. This stuff’s coming at us so fast we haven’t a hope of keeping up with it.
It’s not compulsory for stories to be witless just because it’s Christmas. Actually, it’s not even forgivable for stories to be witless just because it’s Christmas. Christmas should mean the opportunity to stun a huge, eggnog-dazed captive audience with the brilliance of your franchise (just like they did with The Christmas Invasion), not the excuse to trot out a bunch of big dumb clichés and some stunt casting. It’s so stupid. So dull. So been done before you think your life must be passing before your eyes.
And about that stunt casting: so much star power wasted. Geoffrey Palmer is outstanding, but his character makes no sense, wringing his hands over a young crew member when there are two thousand other people he’s cheerfully offing as well as the old duffers. Clive Swift is excellent as Mr Copper, but the mixed up Earth history’s about as funny as, to pluck an example from the air, a film about a boatload of Jews trying to escape the Holocaust. Bernard Cribbins, returning to Doctor Who after a forty-odd year gap, does a great crotchety old geezer, but who’s he selling those newspapers to, and who’s printing them?
And of course there’s Kylie, and alas, her character is the biggest disaster of them all. We were never Neighbours fans, so we can’t comment on her usual dramatic skills, although she can certainly do comedy – she was fantastic as Epponee-Rae in Kath And Kim. But whether it’s Kylie, the script or a gruesome combination of both, her character is awesomely bad: simultaneously boring and unconvincing. Given that Murray trots out yet again his woo-oo-oo-oo theme, we’re probably supposed to care when she takes the Death Plunge, but she’s so generic we were totally dry-eyed. Oh yeah, and another thing: it takes some doing to make Kylie - Kylie - look like a dowdy middle-aged matron with a bale of straw on her head, but against all the odds they pull it off.
What’s more, in the tediously compulsory snog scenes, anagram-of-TARDIS Astrid and the Doctor have about as much chemistry as a couple of mince pies that have gone off. And why are those scenes in there anyway? Not only is it another entry in the inconsistent list of women the Doctor immediately gets off with while simultaneously moping over Rose, when you look at it closely there’s something pretty unsavoury about the whole situation. Astrid’s stuck in a dead-end job, is dying to travel and has no prospect whatsoever of doing so, and then she meets a man with his own spaceship: call us cynical, but in these circumstances, her flinging herself at the Doctor looks less like a coup de foudre and more like a Russian bride in search of a new passport.
And then there’s the villain. George Costigan in his golf cart does his utmost – the face he pulls when the Doctor points out how many people he’s killing is one of the episode’s few highlights – but good God, what a yawnsome character. How we wish Russell T Davies could just get over the evil capitalists. They are all. The. Same.
In essence, good actors (except Kylie, probably) wading through rivers of suckage. And the characters aren’t alone. Everything, and we mean everything, in Voyage Of The Damned, fits into three categories: the tired, the dull and the stupid. Some fit into more than one. Some fit into all three. Allow us to demonstrate.
The Hosts Tired. Really, whose idea was it that it would be a keen plan to copy the Robots of Death robots, right down to the hand in the door? And who was it who decided that nobody would notice that they’d just had angel villains in Blink? Also, they did the annoying saying the same word in every utterance in Utopia. And as for the Doctor wasting his questions, that’s the oldest joke in the Big Book of Jokes For Desperate Screenwriters. Stupid. So Max is going to crash the ship, killing everybody, right? So why do the angels need to kill at all? Also, how come they obey not Max, but the Doctor when after Max twice tells them to kill the Doctor the Doctor stops them? And since after they start killing they say they have only one function, how come the Doctor’s able to get them to follow the stowaway protocol?
The meteor thingies Stupid. We’re not even going to get into the idiocy of the fiery trails and everything, because we’d be here all day. But why have them at all? As with the Hosts killing people, it’s all unnecessary, because all they have to do is switch the engines off for everybody to be dead.
Credits Stupid. According to Barbie, math(s) is hard. But even if your head’s made of plastic, you’d spot there’s something very weird about 50 million credits for trinkets at the same time as a phone bill for 5,000 credits that’ll take 20 years to pay off.
The crash dive Stupid. Good on you, Doctor, for restarting the engines so whizzily, but the shock wave would have wiped everything out for miles. Bonus stupid points for the Queen.
The entire Earth in peril Tired. Say no more.
The upbeat ending Stupid. Yes, it’s supposed to be bittersweet, what with the Doctor’s new squeeze dying and the bits of ballast floating around and all, but c’mon. Yes, the Earth was saved (yawn), but aboard ship it’s pretty much a full-blast tragedy. How many people not including the Doctor survive? Three out of two thousand? And the only acknowledgement of that we get is a response to “We made it!” of “Not all of us.” Ya think?
The intrepid band of survivors Tired. If we wanted to see The Poseidon Adventure, we’d rent it. Dull. They’re all one-note and clichéd, and the Bannakaffalatta (ugh) death scene is squirmily excruciating, especially with Kylie’s acting. But hey! The nasty guy survives! Isn’t that a fresh and thrilling new twist? No. What would be fresh and thrilling would have been giving the characters more than one dimension. Stupid. Just where are they going, exactly? First, they’re off to the bridge, then the bridge becomes impassable. The Doctor gets interested in Deck 31, so quick change of plan, we’re off there. But then the Doctor goes there alone and sends the others off in another direction. To…?
The narrow bridge over the abyss Tired. How often have we seen this? Stupid. Why don’t Health And Safety ever insist on a handrail? Dull. All that pointless hanging around in the middle when they could - and should - have scuttled to the other side.
The noble plunge Dull. They used it twice, and that’s at least once too many. Stupid. Foon had the Host lassoed – why not just shove him over the edge?
The social comment Dull. “Cyborgs… can even get married.” Why not just drop an anvil on our heads?
The sonic screwdriver Dull. As usual. Stupid. Okay, this one did rouse us out of our apathy and make us spit tacks. How come the sonic screwdriver can do every fucking thing in the universe except disable the Hosts’ electronics?
The cunning plan Stupid. If Max can kill the engines from his golf cart, why not just do it himself and tootle back inside his black box instead all the faffing about with (traceable) bribes for the Captain? Tired. Yet again, the villain explains it all to the Doctor instead of just shoving him off the cliff.
And then there’s the Doctor.
Dear God, can’t they give the Rose thing a decent burial? Even here where he’s playing tonsil hockey with Kylie he’s still sighing wistfully over Rose. The guy’s travelled with companion after companion – why in God’s name would he still be stuck on Rose? And ditto with Dr Jesus. It was bad enough in Last Of The Time Lords, but here, with the slo-mo and the finger-snapping and the ascension, it’s absolutely ludicrous.
Worse, we don’t know if it was the bad script or too many bad episodes recently, but watching this episode we realised we’re tired of this Doctor’s shtick. Too much clowning, not enough of the power that should underpin it, and it makes him just some guy. There’s only one moment in Voyage Of The Damned where he approaches his potential – his “I’m the Doctor” speech - and they stuffed it up royally. If they’d cut all the crap in the middle and left us with “I’m the Doctor. You got a problem with that?” it would have been an iconic moment. We’ve got no doubt David Tennant can do it, but we really wish he had a few more opportunities to do so.
Anything good about it? At all? Well, we like the new theme. We like Foon’s response to “What would he have wanted?” of “He don’t want nothing, he’s dead!” Rickson’s quite funny (we like the line about the doughnut). We like the TARDIS-shaped gap in the snow. And we enjoyed the shout-out to New Zealand. The Doctor’s right, it is beautiful. We think we’ll go and lie on some of it.
MORAL: Cruise only on ships run by socialist collectives.
A PENETRATING GLIMPSE OF THE OBVIOUS
Now we know Russell T Davies isn’t going to win any science prizes. But with “She’s just atoms, Doctor” he outdoes himself.
IF YOU BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
How does Tinkerbell get out the window when the oxygen shield is up?
The episode is dedicated to the memory of Verity Lambert. What a shame it was this one. She deserved better.
Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK